Tracy Morgan is an extremely funny, naturally gifted comedian who has led a crazy life. He’s also black. Regardless of whether those things are obvious, readers will be reminded of them again and again and again in Morgan’s thin autobiography, I Am The New Black. His story is undoubtedly interesting: He grew up in tough New York neighborhoods, hustling to make ends meet, and to meet girls. His father, a PTSD-stricken Vietnam vet, died from AIDS after years of IV drug abuse. After stints as a drug dealer (among other things), Morgan eventually focused on comedy and essentially willed himself to fame. He’s extremely proud and mostly candid, but the story of his first 40 years is short on details and long on clichéd advice, which can make for a frustrating read.
Still, the meat of Morgan’s book is occasionally fascinating: He’s forthcoming about his relationship with his mother—they don’t speak—and the crushing sadness he still feels about his father’s death, and he has some fun stories to tell. But when it comes to his career, he doesn’t always answer the questions he should’ve: He references his stint dealing weed, but only in brief. He glosses over the dissolution of his long marriage, casually admitting that he was on the road partying, with all the temptations that entails, but passes it off as a learning experience. The New Black could use a further chapter on Morgan’s Saturday Night Live stint, too: It reads like he was in and out in a hurry, when in fact he was there for seven years. He gives lip service to the idea of struggling through it, but doesn’t offer what a revealing autobiography should: There’s virtually no grit or dirt, beyond vague shots at Chris Kattan and Cheri Oteri. (And lots of love for Tina Fey.)
And then there are the lessons learned—which can be the death of any good comedy. Morgan is hilarious, and on 30 Rock, he brings out the perfect comedic vision of himself—the self-deprecating weirdo Tracy Jordan. But Jordan would never say things like “Either I was going to let loneliness drown me, or I was gonna die alone,” or “I’m not worried about the things I can’t control.” Such snoozy chunks of life advice grind sections of the book to a halt. One minute it’s riding high with a story about Prince kicking Morgan out of his house; the next, he’s once again trying to offer a teachable moment. We get it, and we appreciate it, but there’s no better way to dull a sharp edge—and Morgan clearly has one—than by pointing out the wisdom behind every mistake. In a way, it’s like ruining a joke: If it needs explanation, it’s too late.